I know the feeling.
Christmas comes around every year. The same songs. The same texts. The same story. Most of the time I love the familiar rhythm of Advent and the comforting routine of tradition.
But as a pastor, I also know that sense of desperation: “How many more Christmas sermons and holiday homilies can I possibly come up with?” And I rarely do a full four-week Advent series. The poor brother who does an Advent series every year for 40 years is going to preach at least 160 sermons on Christmas. I sympathize with the temptation to novelty.
But don’t do it, pastor. Don’t get cute at Christmas. Your people need regular meat and potatoes, not the newest eggnog recipe. Stay away from props and video clips. Put to death the Star Wars tie-in you’ve been really excited about. Don’t worry about preaching the same truths and the same themes. They don’t remember last year’s sermon anyway. Go ahead and tell them the old, old story one more time.
That means the Christmas Eve service should not be about the evils of shopping or the dangers of busyness. We can leave behind clever cliches like “Wise Men Still Seek Him” or “Have Yourself a Mary Christmas.” There’s no need to focus for 40 minutes on what exactly was the Star of Bethlehem, and if you are going to talk about the Magi, don’t make it an academic lecture on Persian astrology. Let’s spare our people the usual harangue about how Protestants have ignored Mary for too long (even though, I’ve heard that sermon and read those articles every year since I was a kid). Let’s not get caught up in the dating of Christmas or debunking the supposed parallels with Mithras.
Are any of these things wrong in themselves? Of course not. I’ve touched on these themes in a number of messages over the years. But let’s keep the main thing the main thing.
There will be unbelievers at your Christmas Eve service. And struggling saints. And weary souls. And wayward sinners. And stragglers who have ventured into a church for the first time in a long time. They need to hear about Jesus, about the Word made flesh, about the only begotten Son sent from the Father, about the one who fulfilled ancient prophecy, about the one who came to save his people from their sins.
Dear pastor—and I’m reminding myself as much as I’m reminding you—our people don’t need us to find something new. They don’t need empty spiritual bromides. And they don’t need us to brandish our cultural bona fides at Christmas. Our people need the gospel. They need the Trinity. They need to hear about the miracle and the majesty and the mystery of the incarnation. Hunker down in Matthew 1 or Luke 2 or Isaiah 9 or Micah 5 or John 1 or in any text that will lead you to lift high the name of Jesus. Don’t be cute or clever. Just preach Christ.
Your people will be glad you did. And looking back years later, so will you.